Board of Supervisors discuss vaccine hesitancy, herd immunity
For the first time since the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department began tracking in April 2020, there were no patients receiving care in the Intensive Care Units of local hospitals due to COVID-19 as of Monday.
Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the Public Health director, shared the news to the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
“The last time it was this low was when we had one patient at the end of October 2020, so this is, indeed, really good news, encouraging news, that perhaps we are turning the corner,” she told the board. She added that there are good data trends for the county, including decreases in both new cases and active cases across the county.
The health department reported a total of three ICU patients Tuesday.
However, Dr. Do-Reynoso shared that the county will still remain in the orange tier this week, with a 3.5 adjusted case rate for tier assignment and 4.1 new cases per day per 100,000. The county’s positivity rate sits at 1.4, with the health equity metric at 1.8.
The county’s case rate needs to be below two cases per 100,000 for two weeks before it can reach the yellow tier.
In addition, now that Pfizer’s vaccine just received emergency-use authorization approval for youths 12 and older from the Food and Drug Administration Monday, Dr. Do-Reynoso said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Independent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will be meeting today and is expected to vote by noon.
In anticipation of a vote of approval, she said the county has been planning for school-based clinics and will be ready to implement them as soon as next week. County officials are also in planning stages with local pharmacies and other health care providers providing the Pfizer vaccine.
Dr. Do-Reynoso said the Public Health Department awaits CDC fact sheets and dosage guidelines, along with parental permission guidelines from the state department.
“I think the benefit of getting your vaccination is that it will protect the child, it will protect their family, and it will protect the community,” she said. “Children can now return to a full array of extracurricular activities without the fear of getting COVID or transmitting COVID, so I think that the advantages and the benefits far outweigh any perceived disadvantages.”
The public health director also shared that 62.1% of eligible individuals in Santa Barbara County have had their first dose (or their single dose) and 48.6% of eligible individuals in the county have been fully vaccinated (with both doses or their single dose). She also shared the percentages of vaccines administered to individuals out of every individual in the county (including infants) — 49.5% of all county residents have gotten their first or single dose; and 38.7% of them are fully vaccinated.
The county received 6,650 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine this week to administer, but 15,730 vaccine doses sit in the health care system’s reserve that have not been administered. This resulted in a discussion among the board members about vaccine hesitancy.
Steve Lavagnino, the 5th District supervisor, asked why the board members are still required to wear masks indoors if they’re fully vaccinated, and the response was that the Cal/OSHA regulations are still in place for county employees.
“I mean, six cases and nobody in the ICU — I know there’s the time where you don’t want to announce victory too soon and we still have to be cognizant of the fact that it (COVID-19) still exists out there,” Supervisor Lavagnino said. “But at some point, we have to realize we’re going to live with this virus for the rest of our lives, and I think it’s incumbent upon us as leadership to show that we were the first ones who started to wear the masks — and it was real quick in implementing the ordinances — so we need to be just as swift in removing them when they don’t make sense anymore.”
During public comment, county resident Terri Strickland said she thinks “it’s time for this board to stop vaccine shaming.”
“If you really believe the vaccines work, why are you all sitting up there, six feet apart from each other, masked?” she said. “This is no way to encourage people who are on the fence to get the vaccine.”
First District Supervisor Das Williams responded to the comment saying that “encouragement is very different than shaming.”
“I think that it’s important to encourage people to be doing something that’s good for their neighbors and for their families and protect them from contracting a deadly disease,” he said. “We should have folks making their own decision about whether to get vaccinated … But the risks of having an insufficient number of people are vaccinated are high, and because of that, I very much encourage people to get out there and get vaccinated.”
Bob Nelson, board chair and 4th District supervisor, said he sympathizes with Ms. Strickland’s concerns. He added that he believes it stems from a lack of trust between residents and the government that even if they get the vaccine, the mitigation measures won’t go away. He said he knows many of his constituents feel like the “goalposts keep moving,” with the messaging from health officials going from slowing the spread to avoiding overwhelming the health care systems to waiting for a vaccine to now waiting until herd immunity.
“I don’t want to minimize any deaths that happened in this county, but we’ve now gone two weeks with no deaths, and we were one death before that and two deaths before that, and that’s per week,” Chair Nelson said. “I want to make sure we acknowledge the risk has gone down significantly, but we are still living with a lot of these mitigation measures and safety measures.
“As quickly as they (safety measures) came about, I really think that they should start to be phased out here, and I’m hopeful that the state is hearing that and that they will send down those guidelines.”